Few travel experiences stand out more than hiking in Iceland. Iceland has become a very popular travel destination, yet it’s still considered off the beaten track. Despite its small size, nearly every square mile contains raw, untouched natural beauty, like majestic fjords, rugged clifftops, endless greenery, and rough seas – not to mention the most popular feature, the geothermically-heated outdoor pools.
Because of its rugged attraction, Iceland is a haven for those willing to rough it in the great outdoors. We’ve put together 15 of the best hikes Iceland has to offer for travelers ready to lose themselves in some seriously jaw-dropping natural surroundings.
Hiking in Iceland
Hornstrandir Nature Reserve
We’re starting off with something completely off the beaten path to help you avoid the crowds. The Hornstrandir Nature Reserve is still completely untouched, meaning its natural beauty is unmarked by any signs of human habitation. Because of this, hikers will need to be fully self-reliant. It is accessible only by boat, but there are two companies that can take you there (West Tours and Borea Adventures).
This region has a plethora of wildlife, including Arctic foxes (you’ll undoubtedly meet these little guys on the trail itself), puffins, ravens, and other birds.
Vestfirdir, northwestern Iceland
This reserve is closed in the winter, so be sure to check the open/close dates if your trip coincides with the cold season.
This is a much shorter, easier day hike for those staying in or around Reykjavik hoping to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city for just a few hours. Hveragerdi is a haven located a quick bus ride away from the city center, but it immediately feels as if it could be hours into the wilderness.
The main trail is the best option since it passes alongside incredible greenhouses along the route. The hike itself is a little higher on the difficulty level – perhaps intermediate – with some steeper areas. There’s a geo-warmed river at the path’s end to warm you up from the hike.
A 45-minute drive southeast of Reykjavik
The total distance is almost 17km, so start this one early in the day.
The Seljalandsfoss Trail
Waterfalls in Iceland are great and all, but when you can walk behind them without getting (too) wet, they reach a whole new level of awesome. The Seljalandsfoss Trail is a popular one due to its relative ease for all levels, and because of the beautiful waterfall at the end (one of the most photographed in Iceland).
It’s the only one in the country that you can walk behind, creating a whole new point of view that your camera will thank you for. Located an hour from Reykjavik, tour busses travel there daily. Because of this, it’s a little more touristy, but the views are worth it.
The hike only takes 15 minutes, but it has slippery sections! Bring grippy shoes.
Skaftafell National Park
It’s hard to come up with new reasons for each hike on this list other than “spectacular natural beauty,” but that’s why you want to visit Iceland anyway, right? Skaftafell National Park is full of incredible scenery; they’ve even color-coded the trails according to difficulty level, so you know exactly what you’re getting yourself into.
The most popular route is the Svartifoss waterfall hike: it’s less than two kilometers long, and you’ll pass several beautiful waterfalls, including the most imposing – the Svartifoss waterfall. This waterfall pours its water down against striking basalt columns in the rock face (not unlike those at Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland). Bring your camera, although you’ll be staring for so long you might not need one!
Can be slippery due to waterfall mist—bring appropriate footwear.
The Mount Esja Trail
This is a popular one! At nearly seven kilometers in length, this trail leads not just to Mount Esja, but more specifically to the Esjan Range, a chain of volcanic mountains. The view of Reykjavik from the summit is astounding: all the colorful houses make for a beautiful overview of the city.
On the way back down, you can stop at the restaurant at the mountain’s base for a meal and a glass of Brennivin (Iceland’s signature drink—it’s like a sweetened Schnapps).
Close to Reykjavik
If you’re visiting in winter, this is more of an experienced-level hike, but it is accessible to novices in other seasons.
Hverfjall Crater Rim Trail
If you’re after something a little more otherworldly, look no further than the Hverfjall Crater Rim. The crater is found in the Myvatn area. There are volcanic craters and old lava that makes the landscape almost look lunar-like; we guarantee you’ll feel like you’re on another planet.
The full hike is a loop around the crater rim, only around three kilometers long, so it’s an easy day hike you can do at pretty much any time of day. You can also descend down into Dimmuborgir (meaning Dark Castles), where ancient lava formations wait to be explored.
Mývatn, Nordhurland Eystra
If scree (loose dry stones) makes you nervous when hiking, you might want to skip Dimmuborgir.
The valley of Thorsmork (meaning Thor’s Valley) is home to Iceland’s three most famous glaciers. Because of their size, you could easily explore this region for a week and still only scratch the surface. If you’re looking for a day trip, the best option in the area is Valahnukur Mountain.
This trail is a loop that will take less than two hours from start to finish. It gives you 360° views of the entire valley (a very camera-friendly hike!). Start the hike from the Volcano Huts (individual hut accommodation) in the Thorsmork Nature Reserve.
You can stop at the Langidalur Hut to refill your water on your way down from the mountain.
If you’re looking for hidden gems in Iceland, Thakgil is definitely one of them. The road to get there is a bit gravelly, but it’s not an issue during summer – which is the only season this route is open (June through August). At a quick pace, this hike can be done in an hour, two if you’re taking time to drink in your surroundings.
Thakgil is in an area of glaciers and volcanic valleys, but it’s a middle ground of lush greenery, making it perfect for a hike. It’s also quite flat, so all skill levels are welcome. There are creeks and waterfalls in the area, and the water is clean enough to drink, so feel free to refill your water bottle along the way.
A great campsite nearby is family-friendly, allowing you to get a head start on the hike without needing to drive in.
This hiking route ends at Iceland’s second-largest waterfall. At only three and a half hours total, you can bet it’s a popular journey. The views aren’t just at the end, though: you’ll be treated to incredible vistas the whole way. The trailhead starts about an hour’s drive north of Reykjavik. It’s a little tricky to see from the road, so watch out for signage indicating where to turn.
Despite some slightly higher climbs, this isn’t a challenging hike, so all levels should feel welcome to experience it. The waterfall drops into a beautiful mossy green canyon, so bring your camera along to capture this rugged beauty.
Hvalfjordur fjord, West Iceland
Proper boots and even hiking poles are recommended for this walk.
Arnarstapi To Hellnar Cliff Walk
This is another lesser-known walk, meaning there’s a good chance you’ll have it all to yourself. It starts in Arnarstapi; leave your car in the car park and walk up the hill to the south where you’ll come to a cliff edge. Continue along the cliff edge until you reach the archway of Arnarstapi—it really is a sight to behold! It’s a naturally-occurring archway in the cliff that juts out into the water.
Most people stop here and turn around, but continue walking along the cliff, and you will pass even more natural beauty until you hit Hellnar, the next village. It’s only two and a half kilometers between the villages (5km round trip), so a very short enjoyable hike.
You can do this in reverse order too, starting from either village.
Iceland’s most colorful peak gets its nickname from the mixture of natural elements that occur on its slopes, including volcanic ash, sulfur, and iron. From photos, you might almost think you’re looking at a painting! There are several trails up the mountain, but the main three are the most accessible to all skill levels (Brennisteinsalda, Bláhnúkur, and Suðurnámur).
Regardless of which route you take, you’ll want to bring a change of clothes or swimming gear. At the end of the road, you can relax in one of Iceland’s famous geothermal pools before heading back down!
Sudhurland, southern Iceland
If you can make this hike at night safely, this is a great spot to catch the Northern Lights.
The Latrabjarg Cliff
This is a bird watcher’s dream. Since the hike is up a cliffside, it’s more difficult than your average trek, meaning beginners might want to skip it or do some research ahead of time to ensure they’re prepared.
It’s one of the largest bird cliffs anywhere on Earth, so you can bank on the views from the top being some of the most incredible you’ll ever see. Birds will change according to the season, but you’ll often see puffins, Arctic seabirds, ravens, and dozens of more bird species.
Vestfirdir, the most westerly point in Iceland
The hardest part is the beginning where the ascent is the steepest, but after that, it only mildly slopes up.
The Seljavallalaug Hot Springs
Considering this is Iceland, there haven’t been nearly enough mentions of hot springs on this list of best hikes in Iceland. The Seljavallalaug Hot Springs trail is an easy hike with a huge end bonus.
It’s only 20 minutes each way, and it leads to one of the oldest geothermal pools in Iceland. Bring your own gear as this is an unattended facility with no staff. The path there and back is absolutely beautiful, and this is an easy hike if you don’t have much time.
It’s not ideal, but be prepared for filthy changing rooms with no dividers. Also, the water is lukewarm at best, we brought bathing suits and chose to give it a skip.
The Fimmvorduhals Pass
This hike is eight hours from start to finish (so begin early), and a little bit harder than many of the hikes mentioned so far. If you’re unfazed by this, then good: this hike will give you some of the most incredible views in the country, unparalleled by their dramatic beauty.
It’s around 20km long and does include some climbing. You’ll pass through valleys and glaciers, alongside waterfalls, and even through lava fields. If you run out of your own water, the streams up here contain fresh, potable water.
Sudhurland, southern Iceland
The weather at higher altitudes can change suddenly, so be sure to layer up and bring a packable rain-resistant shell jacket.
Skaftafell and Jokulsarlon Ice Lagoons
Finishing off with something a little different! Contrary to many of the hikes mentioned on this list, which are better suited to warmer or more temperate weather, this one is recommended for the wintertime. At a total of 48 hours, it’s also better if you’re an experienced hiker who’s ready to camp for a couple of nights.
The path is rife with ice lagoons, ice caves, and incredible ice structures that look like turquoise sea glass. Because it will be winter, this hike requires a lot of prep and specialized gear to keep you warm and safe (think insulated clothing, crampons, etc.). Despite the heavier baggage, this is one of the best hikes in Iceland, and we recommend it wholeheartedly.
Austurland, eastern Iceland
Do a lot of research ahead of time for this route.
Helpful Iceland Travel Tips
- Icelanders speak Icelandic, but every single person I came across spoke English.
- The local currency is the Icelandic króna (ISK). ATMs are found throughout the country.
- Have I mentioned Iceland is expensive as hell? Well, it is! Save money by eating in and cooking for yourself. Check out our Iceland grocery store guide for all the tips!
- Iceland is one of the safest countries in the world; however, it’s always important to use common sense when walking alone at night.
- Tipping is not customary in Iceland.
- Iceland has a strong internet infrastructure, and you should be able to easily stay connected.
- To feel more at home, we use Airbnb. You can check out some tips and read more about getting an Airbnb coupon code here. Or just take this coupon for your first stay!
- Sometimes it’s nice just to have a real book in your hands when traveling. We recommend Lonely Planet to get you through those wireless nights.
Plan & Pack For Iceland
Shop For Travel Insurance
We don’t travel without travel insurance, and neither should you. You never know what can happen in a foreign country, and it’s best to be prepared. HeyMondo offers excellent short and long-term travel insurance policies.
It should go without saying that the weather in Iceland can be a bit rainy, so this is the most important item in your suitcase. You have two options for styles of rain jackets. The first one we recommend is a classic packable rain jacket made for hiking that is a solid choice for outdoor adventurers. The second option is a trench coat jacket for travel for those looking to maintain style while dodging puddles.
I ALWAYS have a down jacket with me when I’m traveling in the winter, fall, or even spring. They aren’t just good for hikes, but doing anything outside.
Down jackets pack up light and small so there is no reason NOT to have one in your bag. Seriously it could save your life in a bad situation. We wrote a whole post on our favorites (hint –Feathered Friends, Arc’Teryx Cerium LT Hooded Jacket, Patagonia Down Sweater, REI Coop Down Jacket)
The fleece sweater is a perfect layer when combined with an outer shell to keep you warm. We purchased wool sweaters from independent retailers in Scotland, and good ones were fairly easy to find for a decent price. For those with less time, a little bit of online shopping for wool sweaters will suffice. We picked up sweaters from Smartwool and love our stuff from Marine Layer.
Technical pants are water-resistant and dry quickly, not to mention they’re comfortable on long walks. They also make for an awesome pair of travel pants as many have become stylish these days with cuts like normal pants.
It’s wet in Scotland and you can expect a lot of boggy weather year-round so packing a pair of good waterproof boots for hikes is crucial for protecting your feet. Good boots or hiking shoes for Scotland are essential. We’d suggest a high ankle boot, but you can go even further with “wellies” or muck boots.
Travel Water Bottle
Plastic pollution is a problem everywhere so it’s best not to contribute to the problem by buying plastic water bottles everywhere – plus the water from the taps in Scotland is perfectly safe to drink.
We’ve shifted to using an insulated aluminum water bottle as it handles the hot sun well. However, we also love filtered water bottles in areas we’re uncertain about the water supply.
Travel in Iceland
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- 13 Best Road Trips in the World! (Pay Attention To #2)
- 15 Iceland Honeymoon Ideas To Consider For Ultimate Romance
- 11 Best Waterfalls in Iceland Well Worth the Journey
- The Best Time to Visit Iceland (2020) • Month by Month Breakdown
- Hiking in Iceland • A Guide to The Best Hikes in Iceland
- 31 Best Winter Destinations in Europe (2020)
- 12 Unique Festivals in Iceland to Attend (Month by Month!)
- 30 Best Things to do in Iceland • The Ultimate Iceland Bucket List
- Iceland Supermarkets and Iceland Groceries • 10 Things You Must Know
- Renting a Campervan in Iceland? Here Are 30 MUST READ Tips
- 27 Camping in Iceland Tips To Know Before You Go (2020)
- 15 Tips to Survive a Campervan Trip in Iceland
- Reynisfjara • 11 Things to Know About this Black Sand Beach in Iceland
- Driving in Iceland? Here are 33 Things to Know
- 20 Iceland Travel Tips to Know Before You Go
- What to Pack for Iceland • The Ultimate Iceland Packing List (2020)
- Happy Campers Review • The Best Campervan Rental in Iceland?
- A 12-Day Iceland Ring Road Road Trip Itinerary (+ Snaefellsnes Peninsula)
- How To Drive The Golden Circle in Iceland Yourself